Lectures and Beyond

Depending upon your Course Goals and desired Student Learning Outcomes, a well-crafted lecture can be engaging and informative. As a complementary tool, experiential learning strategies can help students process and apply key concepts, and theories. 

1. Clearly define the goals of lectures in your course and communicate these goals to your students.

Lectures can engage students and lead them to ask questions, seek answers, or make connections within a course or between courses.

  • Lectures work well if the goal is to inspire, model logical argumentation, or present concepts and key ideas.
  • Lectures are less successful if the goal is to present factual information for which students will be held responsible.

Guest lectures, either in person or virtually, are a way to introduce students to other experts in your field or to present them with new insights into course content.

2. If you use a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, decide whether, and if so, how and when to make these slides available to students.

Here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Avoid slides with dense text.
  • Use graphics when possible and appropriate.
  • Choose color and fonts that are legible.
  • Keep Universal Design for Learning in mind.
  • Decide if you will post the slides online. If yes, before or after class? If not, what factors drive your decision?
  • Consider including audio or video clips.

3. Consider how much of your class time will be devoted to lecture.

Your decision may vary depending on whether a class meets once per week for a block of time or twice a week for shorter times. Here are other factors to consider:

  • How much of the information you want to share with students will come from the lecture versus assigned readings? Is the goal to supplement the reading, highlight major points in the reading, or to present material that is separate from the reading?
  • What do you want students to do or think about after your lecture? If they can attain these goals through small group exercises or individual reflective writing, build in time for these activities.

4. Be prepared to answer the question, “Will this be on the test?”

When the goal of a lecture is to present a great deal of information that includes dates, names and concepts, students may not know the best way to take notes. When students ask, “Will this be on the test?”, they are typically seeking clarification on how you view the lecture material. Are they expected to commit specific information to memory or should they be focusing on broader conceptual frameworks?

5. Teach or reinforce how to take effective notes during a lecture.

Students may not have developed or mastered the skill of effective note-taking. When students take notes on a laptop rather than by hand, they tend to record most or all that the instructor is saying. Early in the semester, consider discussing effective ways to take notes. Clarify for students

  • How you expect them to apply the content presented in a lecture
  • Examples of ways to take notes conceptually or thematically
  • Information they need to commit to memory and whether it is included in a PowerPoint or an assigned reading

If lecture is a major methodology in the course, you might consider requiring students to turn in a copy of their notes. Doing this assignment once early in the semester will give you an idea of how they are processing the content you present.

6. Try interspersing lecture material with active learning strategies.

There are many ways to complement a lecture with experiential learning. 50 Alternatives to Lectures is a great resource to help you get ideas.

7. Use writing opportunities to foster student thinking during a lecture.

Here are some small group or individual exercises that students can do that require them to reflect upon, in writing, what you are presenting in a lecture.

8. Allow time for students to ask questions at different points within a lecture.

Here are several ways to solicit questions during a lecture:

  • Pause periodically to ask for questions.
  • Use clickers along with a PowerPoint slide to get a read on whether the class as a whole understands a point you are making.
  • Recognize the importance of ‘wait time.’ After you pose a question, allow at least a full minute for students to respond. This strategy gives students time to formulate their ideas.
  • When no one responds, a ‘pair-share’ activity (asking students to turn to those around them and talk about the question) can work well. This technique can also be effective when everyone wants to respond.

9. Encourage reflection, critical thinking, and problem solving.

If one of the goals of the lecture is to facilitate these skills, intersperse the lecture with questions or small group exercises that require students to engage in these cognitive activities.

10. End a lecture by summarizing key points, concepts, or possible applications.

Summarizing key points at the end of a lecture helps students mentally integrate its content. Adding several examples of how students might apply or extend this learning is also useful. You might also provide questions you want students to think about that will connect the lecture to the next class session.

Consider asking for written feedback from students by using ‘exit cards’ (discussed in #10 of “Mid-Semester Feedback Survey”).

If you have invited questions throughout the lecture, there may not be sufficient time during the session to answer all of them. Here are some suggestions to consider to ensure unanswered questions are not ignored:

  • Make note of these questions and let students know you will respond during the next session.
  • If you have a TA, ask him or her to record the questions or ask a student to email the question to you later that day.
  • Either revisit the question during the next class, or send a group email with a response, if appropriate.